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Polish government moves to replace judges, electoral officials

Polish government moves to replace judges, electoral officials
From CBC - November 24, 2017

Poland's ruling party lawmakers gave preliminary approval on Friday to two bills allowing parliament and the president to replace top judges, plans the opposition and the European Commission denounced as a threat to the rule of law.

Once finally approved and signed into law by the president, the bills would likely deepen the right-wing government's standoff with the EU, potentially reducing the flow of EU development funds to Poland.

Law and Justice (PiS) party deputies sent the bills authored by President Andrzej Duda to parliamentary committees after Duda vetoed PiS-sponsored bills in July that would have given the justice minister large powers over judges.

Duda cast his veto after prolonged mass protests across Poland. In November, Duda and PiS reached an agreement on the shape of the judicial reform, according to which parliament will need a three-fifths majority to appoint new members of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), a key panel that appoints judges in Poland.

Details of the judicial reform bills are expected to be revealed on Tuesday and PiS has said all work on them could be finished in December. The PiS currently has an absolute parliamentary majority, but not a three-fifths one.

The euroskeptic PiS, under the auspices of party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, says reform of the judicial system is needed because the courts are slow, inefficient and steeped in a communist-era mentality. But critics of the government said the bills are part of a PiS plan to increase its powers over the judiciary and reflect its drive towards authoritarianism, both charges PiS denies.

"Will this demolition speed up court cases? No," lawmaker Krzysztof Paszyk of the opposition PSL told parliament on Friday, adding the bills would introduces "pathology" into the justice system.

'A thuggish project'

The European Commission's deputy head, Frans Timmermans, said earlier in November that Duda's billswhich row back from direct government interference in the judiciary envisaged in the original PiS billswere still not acceptable.

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